What should a school district do if it was caught between a May federal appellate court ruling allowing literature touting Christian-based summer camps at public schools and parents who don’t want their children exposed to anything religion-connected on campus?
Last week the Scottsdale Unified School District simply banned everything not school-related, which, of course, denies children access to any number of worthwhile off-school programs and services, secular or not.
It’s a temporary ban, district officials assured the Tribune’s Beth Lucas. But nonetheless, during this now-indefinite period while district lawyers huddle over what policy to recommend to the school board, so many non-profit groups who do so much good for youngsters won’t have fliers and brochures available on campus or sent home from there.
The question for the district leadership is why, once the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the camps’ right to distribute in May, it did not dispatch its attorneys then and there to come up with a way of fairly dealing with similar groups’ literature before school reconvened in August? Instead, the school board voted just last week to begin a ban. Do district lawyers, like teachers, get summers off?
Next is the question of how common sense can prevail over preoccupation with “policy,” a mystery often found plaguing many in educational leadership. As Capitol Media Services reported in the Tribune in May, the appellate judges ruled that schools can ban commercial, political or religious materials from campuses if they are not “viewpoint neutral.”
That is, Christian summer camps can advertise so long as those ads’ texts don't proselytize for new adherents to the faith.
Districts that treat outside groups with respect, work with them regarding text of literature and do not flip-flop three times, as the Scottsdale district did with the camp that was the subject of the appellate ruling, should have no trouble staying on the right side of the Constitution.
This should be a matter not for lawyers crafting policy while kids wait in limbo, but for a meeting of reasonable minds. As such, district officials should lift the ban, abandon their current thoughts about appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, and start applying plain common sense — what they’re supposed to be teaching our children.